Our keyboarded friend has returned as the DROID3 by Motorola. With a set of specs straight out of this year (dual-core processor, front and rear cameras, and a “qHD” screen), this phone could be the best yet from Verizon in 2011. We have been waiting as patiently as we can for them to bring us something current, and this is the first device that at least on paper, looks like it could deliver. This phone has us hoping that Big Red will cut off all of last year’s tech and start dropping some all-in-one packages. So D3, can you bring Big Red up to speed with the rest of the Android crowd?
- Hardware: Motorola still knows how to do hardware for the most part. We may despise the inexpensive screen technology that they’ve gone with, but we’re definitely fans of them tossing in the brand new dual-core OMAP4430 along with dual cameras, a really spicy slideout keyboard and a dedicated HDMI-out port. They may make questionable software at times, but they can still build a phone.
- Feel: In hand at first, the DROID3 feels a little heavy, but as you continue to use it you get used to the heft. It is actually lighter than the HTC Thunderbolt which is surprising since it has a big ol’ keyboard attached. The 4″ screen is still one of the best sizes you’ll find on any phone, so in hand, you never feel uncomfortable holding it. Some 4.3″ devices are tough to use as one-handed devices – the D3 is definitely not.
- Battery: Battery life for me has to this point been phenomenal. As you can see from the screenshot below, I’m well into a full day and still have 41% left on my charge. It may look like the phone is spending all of its time in standby or idle, but I’d love for anyone to show me a phone that can even last this long doing just that. The Thunderbolt sure as hell isn’t lasting a full day on standby. I’m not sure if this battery success has to do with Moto’s qHD screens, the OMAP processor or some combination of both. No matter what, I’m a fan.
- Android 2.3.4: If Motorola and Verizon are going to continue to put out a new slideout version of the DROID each year, we hope they keep up the tradition of launching it with the newest version of Android available. This is 2 years in a row now that they’ve made this device the most current and we’re loving it. As I’ve said in other reviews, Gingerbread actually feels like the polished and incredibly stable OS that we’ve been begging for. The steps that the Android team has taken to make it the best mobile OS on the planet are clearly seen in 2.3.4.
- Physical keyboard: The DROID2 had a horrible keyboard. The DROID3’s is awesome. 5-rows and just enough of a bump on each key make this one of the best physical keyboards we’ve ever used. I’ll admit that it took some getting used to, but that’s only because I’m an on-screen touch kinda guy and really just had to learn the benefits of a physical keyboard again. Huge +1 to Motorola this time around.
- Front camera: It’s only VGA, but it works quite nicely in video chats and even takes some decent pictures. One thing to note, is the front camera is NOT troubled by that blue tint that the rear camera is. We’ll get to that later.
- New Blur: I’m actually pretty torn on this one. The new Blur featured on the DROID3 (yes, it’s different than the new Blur on the DROIDX) is not bad at all. You can tell that Motorola has really put some time into making this more than just a bunch of intrusive garbage. There are 3D transitions, a whole pile of shiny glossy things happening, and even some additional functionality that comes in handy (screen previews, custom dock, new lockscreen, etc.). The app drawer overhaul is welcomed, especially since you can make a folder without bloatware that will launch every time you open it. There are definitely some drawbacks though, but we’ll get to those in the next section.
- Video recording (1080p): OK, so the 1080p video I’ve included below isn’t going to win any Oscars especially with that nasty cloud-covered Portland light, but at least you can record in full HD and then play it back on your TV. We wish every single phone going forward would do 1080p.
- HDMI-out port: These should come standard on every phone in 2011+. If your phone isn’t capable of connecting to a TV, it’s not a phone of the future and should be passed over. We’re getting to that point where phones are taking HD-quality video, so we need an easy way to share and this is it.
- Screen: Pretty sure you guys know how I feel about Motorola’s PenTile matrix screens at this point, don’t you? The DROID3’s is exactly like the DROIDX2’s only .3″ smaller, so it is not quite as unbearable. It’ll still give you headaches if you scroll too quickly through anything though, and it leaves massive ghosting trails in games or basically anything with quickly moving objects. It can’t render certain colors, it leaves pixels incredibly noticeable, and again, is not my favorite. Hey, but it does wonders on battery life though!
- Not 4G LTE: I hate to call any phone with DROID branding on it a “filler device”, but what else can we call this? Verizon barely acknowledged its existence, there has not been one commercial made for it, and most people outside of the tech world don’t even know that it’s available. And you know why? Because it’s not 4G LTE. Had they tossed in an LTE radio, this thing would have been blasted across billboards and your television. Unfortunately for this phone, 3G technology is no longer in the marketing budget.
- Camera: We heard a lot of rumors leading up to the release of this device (and the Bionic) which suggested that Motorola was going to introduce new cameras and software that were capable of taking some of the best pictures ever on a mobile device. Well, we’re hoping they get it right with the Bionic because the level of blue tint that this phone puts on photos is something else. I posted the best 4 I could take with it below that had the least amount of blue – not an easy task. There are almost zero camera settings that can be adjusted, so if you want your photos to look less Smurf’d, then you’ll have to invest in a 3rd party camera app.
(click images for larger versions)
- Software bugs (New Blur): Motorola has done a lot of good things with this new Blur, but there are still some things that need to be worked out in a hurry to make most of us not scream for stock. The biggest one for me is the home redraw issue. We’ve seen this on a number of their devices, so I’m not 100% surprised at this phone having it, but was definitely hoping the dual-core processor would take care of it. Try going into the camera app, then exit back home and count how many seconds it takes for your home screens to all reappear…still counting? I’m also not a huge fan of long pressing on an app in the app drawer and not being able to quickly place it on a home screen. This is one of those Blur features that hampers on a basic principal of Android. And then there is that feeling of a lack of control due to too much going on. With all the 3D and fancy transitions, you start to wonder if you have any control at all.
- Lock button: If you thought the Thunderbolt’s lock button was tough to tap, wait until you get a hold of this phone. First of all, it’s in a really awkward spot in the middle, up top on the keyboard half of the phone. The problem though, is that you feel like you have to hammer on the thing to get it to work. I constantly found myself tapping it 2-3 times without it doing anything.
- Call quality: I usually won’t include call quality as a bullet point since most phones these days do a pretty good job in this department, but something just stuck out while on calls with this phone. There just seems to be an extra layer of fuzz as compared to the Thunderbolt or Galaxy S II. By no means does it make the phone not usable as a phone, it’s just something I noticed on a regular basis.
- Bloatware: Official count is 22 bloatware apps. We counted 21 on the DROIDX2, so that means Verizon decided to step their game up this time around. Oh, and there could have been more – we may have uninstalled 1 or 2 since they are letting you do that just a bit these days.
Quick Walk-through and Hands-on:
To see how the DROID3 performed in our full series of benchmarks and to see how it compared to the Samsung Galaxy S II and DROIDX2, you’ll want to check out this post.
As to not beat around the bush too much, I’ll just come out and say that the DROID3 is a pretty damn good device. It’s lacking 4G LTE support which is a deal killer for many of you, but that doesn’t mean this phone isn’t a major player. The specs all line up, Blur has come a long way, it’s running Android 2.3.4, and technically, can take some pretty mean pictures as long as you ditch the stock software. I would highly recommend that you install a 3rd party launcher as well, since my device seems to suffer from redraw problems. But most of you do that anyway. The battery life is stellar, the screen can be dealt with if you are blind (kidding!), and for a physical keyboard, you aren’t going to do much better than this.
I’m not going to do a comparison to the DROID Bionic or Galaxy S II because this phone is in a different category. It’s not meant to be a flagship, but it’s still an above average device that should last you the life of a contract. At $199 on a 2-year deal or $459 without, it’s not overpriced by any means and lines right up with other new non-4G releases yet has far better specs. If you want that all-in-one monster though, we’ll unfortunately have to tell you to wait just a little bit longer.